- TORONTO -- Making contact
with intelligent life in outer space will likely occur sometime during
the next century, says a Toronto-based scholar in an article featured in
a recently published American book of essays surrounding the next millennium.
- Few events in the sweep of human history will be as significant
and as far-reaching as contact with intelligent life in outer space, and
now is the time for us to begin to prepare for the social and physiological
impact, says Allen Tough, a retired education professor from the University
of Toronto and an expert in future studies.
- Scientists and the public have, in recent years, come
to realize there is the distinct possibility that life on other planets
exists, says Mr. Tough, and the effect of contact on human civilization
will be profound.
- "We must keep in mind that some of the intelligent
life in our galaxy may be deeply alien to us. Their thinking patterns,
knowledge, emotions, bodies, perception and communication may be even stranger
than our strangest science-fiction images," he writes.
- "Some intelligent beings in our universe could turn
out to be silicon-based entities or supercomputers."
- Douglas Vakoch, a psychologist with the Search for Extra
Terrestrial Intelligence Institute in Mountainview, California, agrees.
The organization, which has affiliates all over the world, is currently
monitoring radio signals in anticipation of any signals from life in outer
- It is Mr. Vakoch's job to research what the possible
social impact will be on Earth.
- "I think it is important to focus on this now, because
it would happen so quickly and in such a short period of time it is better
we prepare for a range of scenarios before the event occurs," he says.
- Mr. Vakoch says two of the things that have to be considered
when Earth receives a message are whether to respond right away, and what
to say in return. One thing SETI has agreed on is that if a message from
outer space is discovered, once it is confirmed by scientists from outside
of the organization to authenticate the source, the message will be made
known to the public right away.
- "Any message that is sent isn't being sent to one
person or one organization, but to the whole planet, so everyone should
be aware of that."
- Mr. Vakoch says that, if contact is made, not only would
we learn a lot about the aliens, but also about ourselves, and we would
begin to develop an Earthly identity.
- "Some are afraid we won't feel unique any more,
but I think the opposite will happen and we will realize how unique and
special we really are," he sayd.
- Ken Norwich, a professor of physiology at the University
of Toronto who has done research into the potential sensory systems of
life forms from other planets, isn't as optimistic about contact from outer
space any time soon.
- "There is the possibility that we may never find
it, even if it is out there," he says. "Making contact isn't
as simple as sending out a signal and getting a message back."
- The subject of UFOs and outer space have become a preoccupation
of the 20th century, he says, and it is partially fueled by the turn of
- "If we had lived 500 years ago, we would expect
to see dragons or whatever was current, and right now we are obsessed with
UFOs," he says.
- "There is also certain magical attachment to the
turn of the millennium, and we expect something special to happen at that
time -- so why not it be someone from outer space?"
- This isn't to say that we should stop looking, however,
says Mr. Norwich.
- "Science fiction writer Jules Verne talked about
submarines long before we had them, so why not talk about this?" he
- "It's like the saying goes: 'If you ain't got a
dream, how can that dream come true?'"
- Meanwhile, Mr. Tough says it is important to consider
what will happen to humans as a civilization in the event of contact with
- If the event is negative, it could possibly mean the
extinction of humanity. However, he says this is very unlikely.
- "What would probably happen is that any hostile
society would wipe themselves out before they became highly advanced enough
to travel to other planets," he said in an interview from his home
- On the positive side, aliens could provide practical
information that could help human civilization survive. They could also
provide answers to some major questions about life and the universe --
because the chances are the extra-terrestrials would be much older than
us, as our planet is relatively young in comparison to many of the stars
that are in the universe.
- "We might gain new insights, understanding and knowledge
about major questions that go far beyond ordinary, practical, day-to-day
matters," he writes.
- "Topics in a message could include astrophysics,
the origin and evolution of the universe, religious questions and the meaning
- Unlike the movies, in which space crafts land on Earth,
Mr. Tough says he believes contact will probably made by way of a small
probe, possibly the size of a basketball or smaller.
- "It could be something that would be lurking around,
monitoring our telecommunications in order to get to know us or our language."
- Mr. Tough isn't alone in his beliefs. According to a
Maclean's magazine poll last year, 42 per cent of Canadians expect an extraterrestrial
civilization to be discovered within the next 50 years, and 17 per cent
think the aliens will look like humans.
- Although she doesn't believe extraterrestrials have a
special interests in visiting earth, Canadian astronaut Julie Payette told
radio listeners in Quebec in July that it is presumptuous for us to believe
we are the only intelligent species in the universe.
- There is no lack of alleged UFO sightings in Canada.
According to a recent survey by a "Ufology" research group in
Manitoba, there were 194 reports of UFO sightings in 1998, the majority
of them in British Columbia and Ontario.
- Some of the sighting descriptions in the study included
a truck driver in Kelowna, B.C., who observed n big, silent, black triangular
object moving slowly over the highway, and three people who witnessed a
V-shaped object that flew over a house in Bancroft, Ont.